Super Lice! What They Are, How to Kill Them, and How to Prevent Them
Super lice is spreading… Discover if you have super lice and how to kill them.
What is Super Lice?
Super lice is a mutant strain of head lice spreading throughout the world, particularly in the US and Canada. A recent study of lice in the United States testing 48 states (all except WV and AK) found that 98% of head lice had this “super lice” mutation. This mutation makes these lice and their lice eggs extremely resistant to most over-the-counter products and prescription lice treatments. Treatments that were effective against lice 20+ years ago will simply not kill super lice. The super lice mutation is not visible to the eye, so these drug-resistant lice look the same as regular lice. However, if you have tried traditional lice treatments and the lice has returned quickly, you are likely dealing with a super lice infestation.
Lice vs. Super Lice
Super lice and regular head lice are virtually the same bug, except super lice has mutations that make them (and their eggs) much more difficult to kill. When pyrethroid pesticides were introduced as a method for lice treatment in the 1990s (Nix/RID), they were very effective at killing lice and their lice eggs. They would kill lice and leave behind pesticides in the hair that prevented lice eggs from hatching.
1990 was 30 years ago, though! And over the last 30 years, lice have been developing a resistance to those treatments through Darwinistic “survival of the fittest” techniques. These days, lice treatments simply do not kill lice or prevent lice eggs from hatching. It began with just a few “super lice,” but over the past 30 years, pesticides have merely killed off the weak lice and left behind only super lice that are unphased by those old pesticides.
Here’s how this “survival of the fittest” concept works with super lice:
What Does Super Lice Look Like?
Super lice look the same as regular lice in appearance and size. The defining characteristics of both super lice and regular lice are:
- Six legs attached to upper ⅓ of body, not to large abdomen
- No wings
- Tan to brown (often translucent) body, darker body as they get older and after they die
- Black stomach/intestines visible through translucent body (larger after feeding)
- Tapered/claw-like legs
Here is a picture that is not so close up so you can compare the lice bug to the size of a finger.
How Do You Know If You Have Super Lice?
Regular head lice and super lice look exactly the same, so there’s just no way to know if you have super lice by only looking. The best way to know for sure if you have super lice is to try one of these over-the-counter treatments. If you have tried traditional lice treatments and your lice keeps coming back (or never goes away), you almost certainly have super lice.
How Do You Kill Super Lice?
For years, the go-to lice treatments for head lice were over-the-counter pesticides. Unfortunately, many people run to the drug store and grab these same pesticides over and over, trying to kill lice without knowing about super lice and their powerful resistances to these chemicals. This is the worst thing you could do! Super lice are impervious to these types of treatments, so it doesn’t matter how large the dose or how long you leave them on; the treatment only kills the weakest lice and the strongest super lice continue to breed and multiply. Super lice actually get stronger every time you use an over-the-counter pesticide treatment.
Name brand and generic treatments with pesticides as their “lice killing” ingredient do not kill super lice or their eggs. To make matters worse, “prescription” lice treatments use these same pesticides, just in larger doses or for longer periods of time.
Recent studies show that up to 98% of lice/super lice are now resistant to over-the-counter and prescription treatments.
Unfortunately, these pesticide products are heavily advertised and recommended by folks without a lot of hands-on lice knowledge. These products were indeed effective thirty years ago, but since lice have evolved, they are no longer useful for killing these super lice. Save yourself time, money, and headache, and don’t use them.
The Best Super Lice Treatments
The most “popular” treatments are usually among the very worst at killing super lice, so don’t be fooled by big name brands and hollow promises of “killing super lice” on the treatment box.
In years past, the only places you could buy lice treatments that killed super lice were at professional lice center, but now many professional lice centers sell their products on Amazon. This is the best way to get rid of super lice.
(A quick disclosure: these are affiliate links, and I do earn a commission from qualifying purchases; however, all of my reviews are based on the quality of the products, and the decision to purchase through these links is entirely up to you.)
The best lice treatment kits on the market for super lice use dimethicone (a silicone-based product) to kill lice. In Europe, they have moved away completely from pesticides and use almost only dimethicone based products.
These lice treatments are pesticide-free and safe!
Ladibugs Elimination Kit and Lice Clinics Kit use dimethicone oil and are, in my opinion, the very best at killing lice. All lice and super lice are dead within only twenty minutes.
Ladibugs also comes with an enzyme mousse that helps to loosen lice eggs, making them much easier to remove.
Another option that works well is using an all-natural lice treatment. The best natural treatment at killing super lice is Head Hunters Pro WipeOut (make sure you get the kit with the Pro-Lice Comb).
Enzyme-based treatments can be a good choice as well. These ones take a little longer to kill head lice and work best if used multiple times, but in exchange, they break down the glue that holds lice eggs in place. The best enzyme lice treatment kit is Fairy Tales Lice Elimination Kit.
Super Lice Eggs
Like the adult bugs, super lice eggs look similar to regular head lice eggs. The difference is that lice eggs from 30 years ago without the super lice mutation could be affected by pesticides, which would prevent them from hatching. Today’s super lice eggs are not phased by these treatments, however. They cannot be killed, and they will continue to hatch! Your best option for killing super lice eggs is removing them from the hair and throwing them in the trash.
Once lice eggs are pulled from the hair and thrown away, they will not be able to hatch. Lice eggs (including super lice eggs) need to be on the head in order to grow and hatch because they need a very precise climate, which is only available on your head.
If you focus only on killing lice and not removing eggs, you will not get rid of super lice because new super lice will continue to hatch from the eggs that weren’t removed from the head. And, to make matters worse, each generation of super lice will be stronger than the last.
Here’s what this cycle looks like…
The fastest, easiest, and most effective way to get rid of lice eggs permanently is with a professional-level head lice comb.
I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve tried lice combs before, and they don’t work.” That’s only because you are using a bad comb. There really are only a few good lice combs on the market today, and you can’t find any of them at the drugstore. The very best lice comb out there is the Nit-Free Terminator Comb.
If you ask any lice professional, they will almost certainly tell you this is the comb they use. The teeth of this comb are spaced tightly together, but the real secret is that these teeth have small spirals, creating a “barbed wire” effect on lice and nits, catching them and dragging them down the entire hair strand and out of your child’s hair.
How Do You Get Rid of Super Lice?
Because the super lice mutation makes both lice and lice eggs very difficult to kill, you have to address both problems. Even the best super lice treatments do not kill 100% of super lice eggs. Here are the steps you need to take in order to get rid of super lice:
- Use a super lice treatment such as Ladibugs, Lice Clinics, Head Hunters or Fairy Tales.
- Remove all lice eggs with the Nit Free Terminator Comb.
- Check all family members for head lice with a lice comb or treat all family members with an enzyme shampoo like LiceLogic Clear & Free Shampoo. (Click here to learn why)
- Keep checking with a lice comb and/or retreat 10 days later (not only a week later). Lice eggs hatch after 7-10 days, so if you retreat or recheck after only a week, you may miss something that hasn’t hatched.
- Clean your house using the following principles as a guide or check out our article Lice Cleaning Checklist to Get Rid of Lice in Your Home
Think 48 Hours
Focus on cleaning items that have been in contact with the super lice-infested individual within the last 48 hours. Lice cannot live longer than 48 hours on household items.
Do Not Use Lice Sprays
Lice sprays do not work on super lice. Multiple scientific studies have shown that that almost all lice in the US are resistant to the pesticide found in lice sprays. The only lice sprays that work for killing super lice are enzyme lice sprays like LiceLogic Clear & Free All Purpose Spray.
You can vacuum surfaces such as couches and mattresses to suck up lice.
Clean Your Brushes
Soak hair brushes, combs, and hair accessories (such as hairbands, clips, and headbands) used by the person with lice in hot water (135° F or greater) for at least ten minutes. (I do not recommend boiling brushes and combs, however, because they will melt.)
Items in the Dryer
Put items in the dryer for forty minutes on high heat.
Bag Items for 2 Days
Super lice can’t live without blood for very long, anything that could have lice on it will be safe to use again after 48 hours. If an item is something that you cannot run through the dryer, like a favorite stuffed toy or delicate clothing, you can seal it away in a bag for a couple days.
Don’t Forget Carseats
Vacuum the car seats of anyone who has had lice.
What About Prescriptions for Super Lice?
Most prescription lice treatments use pesticides similar to the ones you’d find in over-the-counter treatments. They just have larger doses of the pesticides or you’re supposed to keep them on for longer periods of time.
Since super lice are resistant to pesticides, it doesn’t matter how high the dose or how long you leave them on. They won’t work to get rid of lice!
I would never waste time or money on a prescription lice treatment on my own children or recommend one to you.
Are there Home Remedies for Super Lice?
Surprisingly, most home remedies are more effective against super lice than pesticide lice treatments will be. However, none of them are as effective as the products I have listed above that actually kill super lice. Home remedies will not kill any lice eggs, so if you were to use one, you would still need to buy a professional lice comb. Remember, if you do not remove super lice eggs from your hair, you will go around and around with super lice.
How Do You Get Super Lice?
Super lice and regular lice are spread in the same way. At least 90% of head lice and super lice spread directly from one head to another, NOT from inanimate objects. Lice move effortlessly through hair, but struggle on most other surfaces.
Super lice don’t fly or jump like other insects, but they crawl very quickly in hair. They hang onto one hair strand and can quickly move to another.
When two people’s heads (and hair) touch, that’s when lice make their big move from one head to another.
Lice can be passed from inanimate objects as well, usually objects that are in contact with hair frequently, such as brushes, hair accessories, hats, jackets, and clothing.
How Do I Prevent Getting Super Lice?
Three main principles for lice prevention are:
- Avoid head to head contact, such as long hugs, sleeping in the same bed, putting your head on others’ shoulders, whispering in someone’s ear, looking at tablet/phones with heads touching, and selfies.
- Avoid sharing things that come in contact with hair, such as brushes, combs, hair accessories, hats, jackets, clothing, etc.
- Make your hair undesirable to lice by using a lice prevention spray or lice prevention shampoo every day. The best ones are LiceLogic, Head Hunters, Rosemary Repel, and Ladibugs.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Super Lice?
Super lice symptoms are the same as regular head lice. The major difference is that with super lice, these symptoms usually get worse because people struggle with having lice for a much longer time. Multiple rounds of pesticide treatments and home remedies usually leave the head more itchy, irritable, and scabbed.
Some people react severely to lice while others have limited symptoms and no itching at all.
Here are the signs and symptoms of head lice from most common to least common:
- Lice eggs in the hair (often mistaken for dirt or increased dandruff)
- Itchy scalp
- Neck rash or red bumps on the neck
- Tickling or “something is in my hair” sensation on the scalp.
- Increase in dandruff (in addition to lice eggs)
- Tingling or itching of the ears
- Rash around the ears
- Bumps on the scalp similar to acne
- A red patchy rash on the scalp
- Restless at night, sleepy during the day (lice are more active at night)
- Irritability (usually from lack of sleep and discomfort)
- Rash or red bumps on the shoulders or upper back
- Fatigue and feeling “awful”
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Low grade fever
Are Super Lice Dangerous? Do Super Lice Spread Disease?
Super lice are not dangerous. Unlike body lice, head lice and super lice do not spread diseases. The main danger associated with head lice is that severe scratching can cause sores on the scalp. Those with super lice are much more likely to have scabs and sores on the head because of prolonged lice and due to multiple lice treatments on the head. These sores can become infected with bacteria and cause an infection if not treated properly.
Additionally, open wounds on the head increases the likelihood of having severe reactions to the pesticides found in prescription and over-the-counter lice treatments. Pesticides can affect your child’s nervous system and even cause seizures. This is another reason I NEVER recommend using these treatments for head lice.
Besides lesions on the scalp, three primary concerns for head lice and super lice are itching, discomfort, and social stigma.
Itching: Itching is the result of an allergic reaction to lice saliva. Similar to mosquitoes, head lice bites itch much more after they have bitten you than they do during the actual lice bite. This is because when lice feed on your scalp, they inject a small amount of saliva into the scalp. After this happens a few times, your body develops an anti-histamine response and begins to itch. Most people don’t start itching until they have had lice for several months.
Discomfort: Some people’s anti-histamine response reaches severe levels and they have more of an allergic reaction to lice than others. These are the people that feel awful, and have severe fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and a low-grade fever. These folks pretty much feel like they have the flu.
Social Stigma: Super lice does not mean you are dirty! There are even some theories that lice actually prefer clean hair over dirty hair. Unfortunately, there is entirely too much shaming around head lice. Check out the article Do Lice Prefer Clean or Dirty Hair for more information.
Why Do I Need to Check or Treat Everyone in the Family For Super Lice?
If you’ve struggled with super lice for a while, the chances of your other family members getting lice are estimated to be as high as 80%!
Usually parents focus all of their attention on just the one kid with lice because they think the others are in the clear. It’s common that just one child has a serious case of head lice while the others are only in the beginning stages. If one of the other children in the family has head lice, though, then they’ll just give it right back to their siblings.
The best solution for a situation like this is to use an enzyme-based lice treatment shampoo that is effective against super lice on the whole family (parents included). Enzyme lice treatments are made with all-natural enzymes and are safe to use on anyone in the family older than the age of two.
A great option for families is LiceLogic Free & Clear Shampoo. This 8oz bottle has fourteen treatments’ worth of shampoo, which is enough to treat all of your children to ensure they aren’t in the beginning stages of super lice.
To be clear, if you find that any of the siblings have lice, you will need to go through and remove all lice eggs from their hair, too.
If you don’t want to use an enzyme shampoo on all your kids, another solution is to check all of the siblings for lice using the Nit-Free Terminator Lice Comb. Do this by combing through each child’s hair, ensuring no bugs come out.
How to Prevent Super Lice from Getting Worse
The longer you struggle with super lice, the worse it is going to get, and here is why…
When you use an over-the-counter or prescription treatment, you end up killing the weakest super lice, but the strongest super lice live on. The super lice that survive are the ones that have the strongest mutations. It is these highly mutated and resistant lice that breed together and produce more lice, even stronger than the last generation of super lice. Every time you use one of these pesticide treatments, super lice become more “super” because you kill off the weak ones and leave the strongest super lice to multiply.
If you want to prevent super lice from getting worse, you need to switch from using a pesticide treatment to a treatment more effective at killing lice.
Again, here are my top recommendations: